Marilyn Monroe said something I can really identify with. She said, “Looking back, I guess I used to play-act all the time. For one thing, it meant I could live in a more interesting world than the one around me.” It reminded me of my growing up days down in Rhodelia during the 1950s.
There wasn’t a lot for us to do before my dad decided to buy a farm and start a building material business, so we played in the woods and in the farm fields all around us. In a town that small, with limited resources, imaginations were required.
My older sister and I were regular “stars” in our own circus. My brother, Gary, and I used to spend whole days building forts, damning up creeks (we called them “branches”) and creating cave dwellings under rock ledges in the woods, with other neighborhood boys.
Unlike today, we could be gone all day, practically, without anybody worrying about what we were doing. There was no problem roaming over other people’s property, building fires, playing in their barns and helping ourselves to someone else’s old split rail fence to build one complicated fort I remember well — “Fort Apache.”
Whether it was “playing priest” or daydreaming by myself on some hillside or carving out the center of a stand of tall weeds to create a personal, secret inner sanctum, imagination was a constant in my life back then. Monroe was right: “it meant I could live in a more interesting world than the one around me.”
I guess I wasn’t that special. Walt Disney made this point: “Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.” One of the most dangerous things in the world is for people to lose their ability to imagine alternatives to so-called “reality.”
L. Frank Baum said, “Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity.
Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams — day dreams … are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization.”
For years I have said that the biggest shortage in the Catholic Church is imagination. We march forward paralyzed by “reality,” using nursing home language to talk about our futures, as if decline is inevitable. We reward our conformists and punish our dreamers.
Why are we so scared of unleashing the imagination of our members? Is imagination that dangerous or is it just uncontrollable and therefore best left to children?
Father J. Ronald Knott